CHARLESTON – A Putnam County attorney may soon be out of work for his mishandling of a Winfield woman's personal injury suit.
The state Supreme Court on Jan. 13 voted unanimously to hear the case of Lawyer Disciplinary Board v. John Grafton. The Board is asking Grafton, a sole practioner in Winfield, be suspended for a year for neglecting Cheryl Briscoe's lawsuit, including missing the deadline to file an appeal to the Court following its dismissal in Putnam Circuit Court.
According to the report the Board's hearing panel subcommittee filed with the Court on Nov. 1, 2009, Grafton filed suit on Briscoe's behalf in October 2004 against Diane Crouch. In her suit, Briscoe alleged she was permanently disabled when she fell down an unlit flight of stairs at Crouch's home in 2002.
In January 2007, Crouch's attorney Wendy Greve made a motion for summary judgment. On Feb. 13, 2007, then-Putnam Circuit Judge Ed Eagloski granted the motion citing, among other things, Briscoe's admission during the course of discovery she was familiar with Crouch's house, and was not watching as she was going down the stairs.
As the four-month deadline approached to file an appeal, records show Eagloski gave Grafton an extension until July 13. He later granted two other extensions giving Grafton until Aug. 17, 2007, to file the appeal.
In a letter from his office dated Aug. 17, Grafton submitted his appeal to the Putnam Circuit Clerk's Office. The appeal contained what appeared to be the necessary brief outlying the reasons why the Court should overturn Eagloski's ruling.
However, on Sept. 28, the Clerk's Office notified Grafton it could not submit the appeal to the Court until he included, among other things, a docketing statement, nine copies of it and the appeal fee. The letter noted that a deputy clerk contacted Grafton's office "on several different occasions" during the previous six weeks concerning the missing fee, and paperwork.
According to the report, someone from Grafton's office signed for the letter on Oct. 9, 2007. In its investigation, the Board discovered Grafton never responded to it.
Between August 2007 and January 2009, Briscoe made multiple attempts to find out the status of the appeal. Though he did not personally take any of her phone calls or keep appointments, Grafton, through his staff lead her to believe it was pending.
Eventually, Briscoe learned from the Clerk's Office the appeal was never filed. In March 2009, she filed her complaint against Grafton with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Bar's investigative arm.
Upon finding clear and convincing evidence he violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, the Board filed a statement of charges against him on Sept. 30, 2009. A statement of charges acts as indictment for disciplinary purposes.
In the statement, the Board charged Grafton with violating Rules dealing with diligence, expediting litigation, fairness to opposing party and counsel, communication and misconduct. Also, because he failed to respond to three requests for information submitted between March 20 and May 20, 2009, including one via subpoena, the Board charged Grafton with violating the Rule regarding responding to a disciplinary inquiry.
In addition to the one-year suspension, the Board is asking Grafton formally petition the Court for reinstatement of his license, and prior to reinstatement undergo either a psychological or psychiatric evaluation. Upon reinstatement, the Board asks his practice be supervised for two years, he take an additional nine hours of continuing edition in ethics, with an emphasis in office management and pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.
The Court has not yet set a date to hear oral arguments in Grafton's case. Aside from Briscoe's, he has five pending complaints against him with ODC.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 35383